Since the dawning of time, art has been a way of representing an era, a generation, a culture or an event. Often times, as seen through the Mona Lisa, Whistler's Mother or American Gothic, the most captivating art is revealed when the a sense of the artist lives within the painting. Through the most famous of his paintings, "Seated Man Dancing," Ricardo Peñalver--who was a paraplegic--not only lives...he dances.

Ricardo Santana Villenueva Peñalver (Pen-yal-vair) was born a typical boy on April 4, 1937, in San Antonio, Texas, the tenth of twelve children. His ancestors were Spanish immigrants with a creative history, and as a youngster Ricardo was inspired by the artistic endeavors several of his older siblings pursued. In the 1950s, the Peñalvers moved to Southern California. By the early '60s, Ricardo was seeking a forum for his own artistic energy.

In the '60s and early '70s, social change and activism imbued the collective conscience of our nation and those ideals were vigorously embraced by millions among its under thirty population. The San Francisco Bay Area was the center of it all and Ricardo was inspired! He channeled his intelligence and artistic talents toward painting. He was anti-war, pro-civil rights, and worked on behalf of the underprivileged and impoverished. His commitment to such causes manifested itself in his involvement with Synanon, the United Farm Movement and the San Francisco Redevelopment/Yerba Buena Project. In 1968, while our country was polarized by racial issues and largely divided on foreign policy by age and class, Peñalver created an anti-war poster ("War Is Not Healthy...") which surfaced in many forms on college campuses all across America during the Vietnam War era.

The San Francisco music scene was also the epicenter of a musical revolution during this period of freedom, self-discovery and indulgence. Groups like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother & The Holding Company with Janis Joplin made the Bay Area the hippest place to be. Musicians Luis Gasca, Carlos Santana and Mongo Santamaria added to the mix; their Latin sounds warming the cool air of summer nights along the San Francisco Bay. Leading artists on the jazz circuit performed nightly at local clubs. You might find Cal Tjader playing or Stanley Turrentine gently blowing at The Great American Music Hall while Miles Davis' trumpet pierced the smoke-filled room of Keystone Korner.

These happenings were largely promoted at the street level by radio, word of mouth and of course posters which were prominently displayed in store windows and affixed to walls, poles and billboards throughout the area. Peñalver contributed his art to these efforts on many occasions‹such as the Miles Davis poster on which he collaborated in April of 1974.

The following month, Ricardo met Alexa Bryson, the young woman who would become his companion for the rest of his life. Theirs was a romance borne out of a shared passion for art, dance and idealism. Between Ricardo's love for Alexa and his activism there never seemed to be enough time for his art. Often the driven, spirited artist would lament, "All I want to do is sit and paint."

Fate dealt the couple a tragic and defining blow in the summer of 1979. In a senseless act of violence with catastrophic consequences Peñalver was shot while being robbed. Ironically, the artist who deplored violence while devoting his energies to peace, dance and art was rendered a paraplegic. He remained in a wheelchair until his death in July of 1995.

Ricardo referred to August 11, 1979, as his "other birthday." He was forced to re-learn the simplest of tasks. Losing the use of his dominant (right) hand for an extended period subsequent to his injury compelled Ricardo to learn to paint with his left hand. His former way of life was lost to him forever! No longer able to dance or maintain his previous level of activism, only one channel remained as an outlet for his boundless passion‹his art. Thus began an astounding and prodigious outpouring of remarkable painting. In later years, Ricardo said the devastating catastrophe had "confined him to his destiny."

Pain was his constant companion. He could only work for brief periods before succumbing to his physical limitations. Often he worked urgently, as if seeking to pack as much expression into his work as he could while coping with the pain. If he could not get to his easel quickly enough, he would grab an envelope and pen. His need to paint was so intense that he would have scratched his art on a wall if necessary!


Alexa Bryson Art

Penalver's art is for sale at Alexa Bryson Art. Your purchase will benefit ABILITY Awareness.

More stories from Marie Osmond issue:

ThinkQuest in Geneva; The ABILITY Magazine Award

Interview with Marie Osmond

Connie Stevens' CES Foundation Fund Raiser

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